The grunts are made to pause when the clearing comes into sight. They watch their pilgrum take his hood down as he steps into the light a’pour through the starpunched canopy, though the pilgrum himself doubts this clearing was clear’d by a falling star. The pilgrum also doubted the fool would arrive at this place the guidestone was drawn to, of course, but that blood streaked ov’ the stones… that didn’t come from a denizen.
The pilgrum squats and dabs a finger into the blood. Sniffs it, touches it to his thumb. Pulls them apart.
The grunts come hobbling.
“Look what has become of our runaway fool,” as he gestures to the double-red adorning the spiral of stones.
The grunts look with light horror on their pale and sickly faces. They do not feel much… but what they feel isn’t great.
“Well…” as the pilgrum rises to full posture, “at least he did not lose the guidestone.”
“Cyre?” croaks… one of the grunts… whichever one it was.
“Gaze now into the center,” offers the pilgrum, “you impudent fool.”
The shimmering guidestone jutting from the center of the stone spiral finds the fading gaze of the drakken grunts. Their skin, muscles, the endings of their nerves quiver and quake as they step one foot, two foot, three foot, four towards the center. Blood smears on the stones as they both fall to their knees not in the same spot as the fool who perished before them but at the same distance from the middle, with more than enough soil and stone in between to catch the blood a’streak from their split skin and scrape’ed knees, shins, the tops of their filthy feet…
The pilgrum turns away as the souls of his grunts are removed from their corporeal husks and delivered unto the ancient spirit lurking within the guidestone. When the flashing and hissing and silent commotion of it all subsides, he turns ‘round and licks his scaly lips. From the moment of his birth the pilgrum has awaited this day, this moment, this ascension he is so entitled to… yet he cannot bring himself to step forward. Not without taking it all in first. The bloody stones laid in their spiral, the loamy earth out bare to the sky, the busy wind a’whistle through the swaying burnwood need’s. Memories from his upbringing in the slagfields of Dra’konia begin to rise to the surface, soccer games, crystal mining, skip’ing slag across the lava springs… they were good times, yes, but they have passed. Years have passed, all of it has passed, and the pilgrum stood strong against it all, he left his homeland with his troupe of four grunts and wander’d the endless wood guided only by the will of his bestow’d guidestone, and finally, here he is at the destined place of ascension, the holy locale chosen for the pilgrim by the spirit of the elder sealed within the gem…
All of it has come and passed, and the pilgrum stood strong against it all. The time for his ascension is now. The drakken pilgrum retreats to the treeline, drops to his knees, and crawls slowly to the guidestone, scraping scale hard against the spiral’d stone, letting breathe the true drakken hide beneath the shallow layer of the skin of ‘man that so plagues his grand drakonic form. That skin, that wretched bag… it shall suffocate the pilgrum no longer.
At the core of the spiral the pilgrum places an open hand over the jutting crystal and strikes it with the other, allowing the guidestone to pierce through the delicate scales beneath his palm. Fresh blood unfiltered by the reptilian subdermal membrane flows and pools between the pebbles holding the guidestone in place, soaks deep into the untainted earth. The wind picks up, rushes, cuts harshly through the burnwood branches, then dies out altogether. The drakken pilgrum opens his weary eyes and gazes up: a phantasm presents, the spirit of the elder, one dead pilgrum who gave up his soul for the good of all drak’kind.
The tired spirit of the drakken elder stares down from above his folded python arms. Its mouth does not move, but lo how it sends in rapturous enraged tor’ment!
‘Thei haf wand’r’d far and wi’e, yet one grunt seal’d not I…’
“He was no true grunt,” spits the surging pilgrum. “He was put to the test and failed, and my troupe ate well of his flesh.”
‘So it must be, and thus it is so. Rise, pilgrum, ascend and claim your mantle.’
The pilgrum lowers his forehead to the back of his unpunctured hand and closes his eyes. His cloak begins to shudder and flap as though a blust’ gust of wind broke through the still, but no wind blows. No smallbirds fly. No insects chirp their songs of the unyielding decay of it all. There is only the pilgrum whispering incantations in tongues native to the realm of Wyrd, words only semi-translatable to Language, words incapable of ‘scription in Slæb. A pulse of , a silent explosion – the pilgrum lands on his feet at the edge of the clearing. Floating opposite is the ephemeral elder, arms stretched with hands splayed, long white sleeves hanging far lower than the frays of petrified skin dangling back from his forearms. It gazes coldly into the amber eyes of the pilgrum.
The pilgrum nods once.
From the elder’s sleeves emerges a dense and sooty cloud of smoke. The pilgrum sees electric blue sparks popping and snapping in that smoke, can sense a great and furious power undulating from within, portending from somewhere else, coming into form from Nothing to Anything to Something, something archaic, something enraged, something with hot gray steam a’billo’ from its nostrils, with a crimson bloodlust in its eyes.
‘You will only,’ warns the elder, ‘have so much time, pilgrum.’
In answer, the pilgrum steps forward with his ruined hand hanging limp. In his other he carries the bloody drakken guidestone, holds it out before him like a lantern in the night. A low bellow issues from the center of the cloud, as if the conjure’d thing inside was daring the pilgrum to claim its birthright, and so the pilgrum wastes no more time. Focus tight he pours his energy into the crystal and submerges it in the crackling ebon’ miasma. Clouds tremble and rattle and shake, they shrink down around the pilgrum’s wrist and seep into the crystal, the pilgrum must brace himself against the wicked force of the grand drakken guidestone as it cleanses the air of the magick haze brought forth by the spirit of the elder…
…until he must no longer. The pilgrum opens his eyes and stands straight, for he is now in the presence of divinity.
A wide and toothy maw, two eyes dark and crimson, scales black as fresh obsidian. A pair of gray horns twist from its crown; between them a ridge of dorsal spikes trail the beast’s backbone down to the grayed arrowhead bone at the end of its tail. Its wings are massive but folded tightly against its body, its arms and legs muscular but rendered immobile, constricted by the elder’s dark hex. Smirking like a sailor the pilgrum approaches the goliath like a red fox might stalk up to a sleeping rabbit, adjusts his grip on the tiny obelisk.
“You will pay for this, creature,” booms the sourceless voice of the dragon. Fresh steam billows from its muzzle. “You and all your muttish race.”
“Not before you repent to me,” returns the confident pilgrum, “for the sins of your kind against mine.”
“We are Gods, you mortal fool, and you…” The ancient dragon closes its eyes slowly, lowers its head. “…you are all abominations…”
The drakken pilgrum rises from the dirt, lifted by the dead elder’s magick, and plunges the jagged end of the guidestone into the dragon’s chest. There is a pang of something, not quite a hiss yet not quite a sound, just a… slipping, yes, a slipping, a tactile stream of sorts crashes against the pilgrum like a wave as the immortal spirit of the dragon is pulled wholly into the guidestone, its body reduced to ash, the heavens alight with the sick laughter of the drakken elder as he at long last leaves the mortal coil and takes to the astral plane for his long dark rest…
A spiderweb of fractures spreads through the crystal before it shatters in the pilgrum’s hand. Not a single piece touches the forest floor, they swarm inside the pilgrum’s body like termites in a wooden cave and from the shrubs nearby the White Hare watches as the drakken pilgrum’s slack body levitates to the edge of the canopy and hovers there, hovers there, he just hovers there… if there’s any he left in the body.
The drakken corpse then bursts into flames, a fireball hotter than a petal of the sun. It burns off quickly to reveal the form of a chrysalis silhouetted by soot and char. It lowers smoothly through the ozone and lands in bipedal, and for a moment the world maintains its still. Then, the wings unfold all rumble and crackle as the membranes stretch and all the new bones shift into place, then the tail uncoils and cracks like a whip against the back of a spent miner droan, then the towering creature uncrosses its bulging arms and fully splays its clawed fingers and then… then he closes his eyes. A wave of pyroic energy flies free of his body, eviscerates the amniotic ashes, and dissipates just short of scorching the clearing’s treeline. There in the center stands a wing’ed creature with the brawn and might of a lone niphlihim, with the intellect and tact of a domesticated ‘man, with the heritage and wisdom of the grandest race in all the endless wood… there, upon the stone spiral set into soil by forces unseen long before the land shifted and the cragg’ed valley was born, there… “I stand Drakken the Priest.
“The first of my tribe to leave the slagfields, the first to trek with a troup of five and not four, the first to walk toward the Kingdom of ‘Man rather than fleeing away, than cowering from the whelps like untusk’d swine! I am not the example of my race, nay, I am the exhibition. I am the pinnacle, the one chosen by the divine to bring all of drak’kind back to its former stance of glory here, in this endless wood… thus I stand here Drakken the Priest, and thus here my crusade doth begin…”
“Damn it all,” says a voice unknown to Drakken the Priest. “You were doing fine, Drakken the Priest, but then you had to say the Cee-word.”
Drakken the Priest turns his impressive form to face what appears to be a rogue bunyip who was kicked out of the caverns so long its fur lost its melanin.
“What did you just say to me, you creepic cottontail’d vagrant?”
The White Hare, standing suddenly a fraction of a ‘man’s reach before Drakken the Priest, strikes Drakken the Priest with a limp backhand.
Drakken the Priest strikes a vicious fist of claws at this petulant denizen who walks on two legs, but… it now stands at the opposite end of the clearing. How is it…
“Of course,” whispers Drakken the Priest. He levitates off the soil and toil and death of it all, wings spread to full span. “Magick.”
He lunges, claws ready and razor teeth bared. The White Hare lunges forward and twists to avoid a gutting, then grabs the drakken’s tail and spins, redirecting the raging ascende’s momentum and force and raw drakken hatred into a hollow rotted out of a tough old steelwood tree. The drakken’s new horns and head shape in general are working in the White Hare’s favor, the bastard’s stuck good. He hops on down the bunnytrail to taunt his new friend.
The White Hare then steps back when smoke begins to flow out around Drakken the Priest’s crown.
First the leaves burst into flames, the lower ones first. Steelwoods often lose their low branches before maturity, no wonder there was a hole in the trunk. The bark hadn’t hardened up fast enough. To think, if it all waited for this tree to get a little bit older… but it doesn’t matter now, the whole damn’ thing’s burning. The stump went up before the rest of the trunk, it’s crumbling now and the burning obelisk means to fall directly into the clearing.
Directly on top of Drakken the Priest.
The White Hare steps out of the way, let’ the ungrown steelwood topple, covers his face when the carbon husk bursts against the earth. The spiral shall summon again, but the rains shall have their work cut out for them until that time co
From the rubble bursts a howling Drakken the Priest, fire spewn from mouth and nost’, and that’s all he needs to see.
The White Hare dashes into the endless wood.
This subchapter comes from Ordenary, the second of three stories which make up Off His Own Supply. They’re each a different genre, they each take place in a different universe, and they’re all connected by what the author of the book (a main character) describes as “very strange metaphysical events.”
He was possessed by a demon, or so he did believe. Off his Own Supply was the final book he wrote. Hope you dig it (-: